This week we check into another week of fine releases, delivered from any corner of the world. Communions, deliver their debut to big international hype but has opinions split. Elbow return with their 7th album and prove their effortless approach to joyous songwriting. Pop music for grown-ups. Sampha, is no new news really, his album is mind-blowing. Homeshake perfectly manicure their unique bored approach to lo-fi pop and the perhaps little known Porcelain Raft deliver an album that has us a little deflated. You may think different, after all, these are just out thoughts on what we listen to
Artist : Communions
Album Title : Blue
Label : Fat Possum
Genre : Indie Rock / Indie Pop
Moments Of : The Cure / Echo and The Bunnymen/The Drums/The Strokes
Stand Out : Come On, I’m Waiting
Blue, the debut record from Copenhagen-based band Communions, is an album indebted to its influences. It perfectly emulates the sound of late 80’s UK pop bands such as The Cure and Echo and the Bunnymen, albeit with less gloomy production, without significantly expanding on or deepening said sound.
The album starts strong with ‘Come On, I’m Waiting’, a simple melodic pop number boosted by a strong main guitar riff, punchy rhythm and frontman Martin Rehof’s earnest and yearning delivery. This momentum is carried through subsequent tracks ‘Today’ and ‘Passed You By’, both songs gliding by on breezy guitar interplay and warm bass, the latter utilising shimmering synth washes to bolster its solid chorus.
It is at this point that the album begins to lose traction, as its main strength (the clean and spacious production) becomes its primary weakness. While the production stays slick throughout and mostly keeps the project moving forward at steady pace, it feels derivative and lacks variation, causing many of the tracks to blend into one another. The three-song stretch of ‘Midnight Child’ to ‘Don’t Hold Anything Back’ is particularly taxing, with the almost six minute long ‘Got To Be Free’ standing out as a tedious extravagance that would have benefitted from being trimmed down or left off the album.
While their debut competently replicates the sound of a particular time, Communions have a fair way to go before ascending to the heights of their forebears.
Artist : Priests
Album Title : Nothing Feels Natural
Label : Sister Polygon
Genre : Punk / Alternative Rock
Moments Of : Sonic Youth / Sleater-Kinney
Stand Out : Appropriate / Nothing Feels Natural
Skirting a fine line between avant-garde and accessible, D.C. based Priests deliver one of the finest punk debuts in years on Nothing Feels Natural. Brandishing an unhinged interpretation of surf rock as their core, Priests experiment liberally with a wide range of instrumentation to startling effect while still retaining catchy and melodic song structure.
On opener and early album standout ‘Appropriate’, Priests lock into a funky bass and drum groove, lead vocalist Katie Alice Greer’s seething snarl booming over serrated post punk riffs. The song builds and crashes, seemingly imploding in on itself, unable to bear the weight of Katie’s assertive condemnation of sensationalistic society. Saxophones wheeze as the band pile drives into the songs final crescendo, instruments colliding into a cacophonous yet cathartic mess. Such inspired instrumentation permeates the album; ‘Jj’ bouncing along to jaunty, ragtime piano stabs, and closer ‘Suck’ once again employing saxophone to silky effect, cooing seductively over clanging percussion.
Priests find success in rather conventional song writing, particularly on the title track that steadily builds with rubbery bass and impassioned lead vocals to a rip-roaring guitar solo. Elsewhere, ‘Puff’ bobs along to loopy bass and agitated surf riffs while ‘Leila 20’ makes a case for Priests being the rightful successors to Sonic Youth’s special brand of hazy art punk.
With Nothing Feels Natural, Priests deliver a stunning debut that, unlike the society depicted in their music, points toward a bright future.
Label: Young Turks
Genre: R&B, Soul, Electronica
Moments Of: -Benjamin Clementine, Solange, Frank Ocean
Standout: Blood On Me
Behind the tangible aspects of music there always lies a little magic, a spark that imbues the reasonably simple compression and rarefaction of air with incredible depth and emotional poignance. To say Sampha is a savant in this area doesn’t seem to do it justice. We are in awe.
Process is the product of a seven-year running start that kicked off with his debut EP Sundazza. The journey here has been excruciating and that grief, as well as that self-reflection and discovery is here laid bare for the world’s consumption.
The intimate moments of “(No One Knows Me) Like The Piano” and “Kora Sings” showcase Sampha’s delicate and developed songwriting skill, the layering vocals in the former track being one of the artistic and emotional highlights of the release. Even the louder, more brash and energetic takes, “Blood On Me” for example, expertly demonstrate his ability to spin emotion and feeling into every crevice.
We’re deliberately limiting ourselves here, both out of respect and in the natural course of recovery (we’ve finished listening to the release for the third time in a row). This album is so beautifully understated it seems wrong to gush and spin grandiosities. Listen and understand, listen and know that we aren’t lying when we say this is something special. It’s absolutely been more than worth the wait.
Album: Little Fictions
Moments Of: Doves, U2
Standout: Magnificent (She Says) (link)
It’s so common to hear tales of love and loss, pain and overwhelming joy. It’s rare, however, to hear an album that exudes satisfaction, pure and simple. It had to be Elbow then, truly the masters of the everyday hero, of the Helen of Troy of next door. Little Fictions is their most convincing effort in this regard yet.
There is no messing with the formula with this record. Personally we’re of the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ persuasion, particularly when it comes to Elbow. Guy Garvey’s lyricism continues to captivate and inspire, seven albums later and he’s still finding small new joys to fill our world with. If you weren’t a fan of Elbow before this, Little Fictions probably won’t change your mind. You should probably get yourself checked though because you’re clearly allergic to happiness.
“Magnificent (She Says)” builds on the beauty of The Seldom Seen Kid, drum lines that pull you ever forward, flying vocals coaxed on by beautifully understated basslines. There’s a little Leaders of the Free World in “Little Fictions” and “All Disco”, and a pleasant dash of The Take Off and Landing of Everything in “K2”. Building on what’s come before, pushing it forward even just a little bit, it’s the small improvements and hidden smiles that make this release so enjoyable to listen to. It really is as simple as that.
Album Title: Fresh Air
Genre: Psychedelic Rock, Yacht Rock
Moments Of: Connan Mockasin, Foxygen
Stand Outs: Call Me Up, Every Single Thing, Khmlwugh
Peter Sagar, ex Mac Demarco guitarist, now solo slack-rocker gives us a spoonful of comfort food on Fresh Air. His third solo effort, incorporates interesting, yet familiar sounds which are the least bit threatening. They’re more like a tickle of the throat.
Some people may find Sagars tracks boring. That’s fine; they’re geared that way. For some, the lack of action makes for a lacklustre album. But, it’s in those moments where Fresh Air shows it is least mundane. Given, Sagars voice is featureless and unexciting. Although, it manages to lull you into a state that’s out of focus. It can actually untether the brain for a fair amount of time, making it perfect for relaxation.
The problem with this sound aesthetic is that you can get lost in your own state of escape; next minute the album is over and you haven’t taken anything away from it. Fortunately, where Homeshake succeeds is with synths that kick your mind back into action, even just for a brief second. Sometimes these synths are bloated, and other times they deliver a sharper melodic “twang”. A perfect mixture of the two appearing on ‘Every Single Thing’. Accompanied by Sagars tinkering guitar, the songs breathe just enough life to keep the pulse going on Fresh Air.
Artist: Porcelain Raft
Album Title: Microclimate
Label: Factory Flaws
Moments Of: Beach House, Lower Dens
Stand Outs: The Earth Before Us, Distant Shore
Mauro Remiddi’s third album as Porcelain Raft is another adventure into dream pop. The name of the album Microclimate might suggest a more focused, centralised approach to sound, but what the album turns out to be is a mixture of expansive sounds that just shy away from being anthemic.
Microclimate is an album with a whole lot of stake placed on places and events. Just listening to the lyrics in ‘Rolling Over’ you can get a sense of how time and place factored into Microclimate, “All the places that I’d ever been/all the poems as a kid I wrote”. These songs have no problem catering to the expanse and ambience of a location, as well as your role in it. But, where it fails is to express how these moments dictated by time and surroundings actually felt. What were the “cause and effect” of an environment so enveloping?
There never seems to be that payoff moment or revelation in Microclimate you’ve come to expect from some of the genres most encompassing songs. If you’re looking for a Dream Pop example, think School of Seven Bells ‘Ablaze’. You could say that this was never Porcelain Raft’s intentions, but without it, Microclimate feels too humble and unwilling to boast about the awe that’s evident in its electronic ambience. The only time Porcelain Raft really seizes its opportunity is in the first two tracks. ‘The Earth Before Us’ and ‘Distant Shore’, two tracks that rely heavily on each other, but manage to set an interesting precedent, if not a disillusive prelude for the rest of the album.